SurferSpeak | What does secularism offer?
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SurferSpeak | What does secularism offer?

Our surfer argues it's time Indians came out of this state of "intoxication".

india Updated: May 13, 2006 12:29 IST

Indian secularism, on which most of us have grown up, has been intoxicating. This intoxication failed to let us see the impending Gujarat till it tore us apart.

Intoxication one is told is a beautiful feeling. It makes you light-hearted, elevated, and away from worries. While the secularists basked in the glory of independence, there were other forces at work.

The Muslims, raising their voice, at such a time, didn't matter. These voices were pacified with 'eid milans' and 'iftar parties' and ever since 1999, with the bus to Pakistan.

Muslims were left with no choice and were obliged to be grateful to an Indian state which declared itself to be secular in stark contrast to Pakistan which did not.

This state of intoxication with Indian secularism unfortunately did not allow us to foresee Gujarat. Nor will it allow us to see many other such Gujarats in the waiting if we continue to remain intoxicated. We need to recognise what ails Indian secularism.

That Indian secularism is problematic which became evident from the recent controversy that was generated in the media and threatened to spill over to the courts and political arena over the official collection of data on Muslims.

At least that is the message that was given through the protests that came out of the Army controversy. While Advani has used it on a number of occasions to drive home a point, the Prime Minister, succumbing to pressure after having set up a committee to report on the status of Indian Muslims, is equally problematic.

The Indian Muslim

Sixty long years have passed us by. It's a brief moment in a nation's history but for individuals it's a lifetime. And that's how it has been for many Muslims who have lived through these years.

A life-time of excruciating pain and uncertainty. Who can deny that many Muslims have lived with constant threat and terror on an almost daily basis. The word riot has never been alien to any Muslim.

Even the lucky ones have lived it in their own agonizing ways. One can hardly flaunt the privilege of being 'safe' when others of one's community are being massacred!

For many in Gujarat, time seems to have stood still for the last 4 years. There has clearly been no reprieve for them.

However, Gujarat alone does not capture the situation of Muslims in India. That it paints the worst scenario is undeniable but there are many more stories to tell of the Muslims -- of extreme poverty, educational backwardness, human rights violation and sense of insecurity, poor participation in governance, irregular employment, and discrimination in many spheres of life. A very painful and depressing situation to be in.

In such a situation where Muslims find themselves -- it comes as a rude shock that the mere collection of data about Muslim representation can be grudged and looked upon as appeasement by a vast cross section of people.

The talk of this as being detrimental to India's secular fabric and as 'obscene appeasement' is as incredible even as it is shameful and highly objectionable.

That the last time such an exercise was conducted in the early eighties under the chairmanship of Gopal Singh brought no benefit to the community whatsoever, is conveniently ignored.

The Army as secular

The Army, it is being said is a secular institution -- a Muslim head count will make it communal. Strange are the ways of Indian secularism. Stranger still is the Prime Minister, whose assertion that the survey is "an exercise in empowerment, not appeasement" and meant to ensure "better targeting of development programmes", has generously exempted the armed forces from sharing their data. By this one amendment Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, hopefully, saved himself and his party its full term in office.

The Army, according to him, "will continue to be apolitical, secular, professional and merit-based". One would like to ask the Prime Minister whether this would mean that the police will not, the bureaucracy will not, educational institutions will not? And is he admitting, by any chance, that this is acceptable. Are the armed forces then supposed to be our cloak of secularism?

By succumbing to pressure based on false alarm and fragile foundations, both the Prime Minister and the defence minister have caused untold damage to the cause of Indian secularism, more than they could possibly be aware of.

Even as Muslims welcomed the fact that finally, after six decades of false propaganda, a scientific tool was being used to assess their situation, there has been a volte-face.

That disaggregated data on the Armed Forces could indeed be a threat to Indian secularism, lead to a communal situation and even more preposterous -- "can demoralise the armed forces" -- is something difficult to digest. Support for this, from the august office of the Prime Minister, is equally disturbing.

To say that data disaggregated along community lines does not exist or cannot be generated is telling a big lie. Let's not bluff ourselves -- Gujarat and many other riot situations have told us another story.

How records on the basis of community are generated within hours in a riot situation tells us point blank that whether we keep records officially or not -- they exist and can be generated within minutes.

Despite the hesitation in sharing official figures of Muslims in the Armed forces, it didn't take the Army long to list out meritorious Muslim officers in the Armed forces.

Muslims have nearly always been identified -- be it in the armed forces, in the market place, in classrooms and schools, in hospitals, at police stations -- nearly and nearly everywhere -- where it has mattered.

While data collection has generated this controversy, it is precisely in this data collection, the solution to this controversy lies. At the bottom of this lies the absence of clear data leaving room for mischievous interpretations -- threat to the nation, issues of security, Muslims as a pampered community and as mentioned in a daily, "apartheid against majority".

Misinterpretation and misinformation is readily lapped up when Muslims are involved. With the absence of data the community takes a beating. Data is urgently needed for the truth to be told.

One cannot also remain naïve to the process of how prejudice is generated and hate propaganda is disseminated.

The falsehood of Muslim appeasement needs to be taken up if Indian secularism has to work. The story of Muslims needs to be told for it to make a difference. The story of Gujarat alone itself can set to rest the appeasement theory.

It is in the ignoring and forgetting wherein lies the problem. We need to wake up to the enormity of the situation and give up some of our comfortable existence and get over the intoxication.

Books such as Dionne Bunsha's 'Scarred: Experiments with violence in Gujarat' need to be read over and over again for us to understand why we should not remain intoxicated any longer.

Maybe the setting up of peace memorials or museums (on the pattern of the Hiroshima peace park or the Holocaust History Museums), as they exist in many countries across the world, will make a difference.

Hopefully, such an experiential journey which captures the pain of the victims of violence and conflict, will make us introspect and collectively pledge to never let this happen again.

Our surfer Azra Razzack is a reader with the Department of Education, University of Delhi and can be reached

All views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the surfer and do not necessarily represent those of

First Published: May 13, 2006 12:29 IST